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Lou Holtz on the Secret to Great Leadership

Recently, at a major CEO conference, Lou Holtz, one of the most successful college football coaches in history, shared his insights about success, failure and leadership. His thoughts are worth hearing, and here are a few powerful moments that stood out for me:

On Vision:

“This is what I believe: You have to have a vision where you want to go. Without a vision you have nothing. You have to have a plan of how you’re going to get there. And you have to lead by example. What holds a country together, what holds a family together, what holds a business together are core values. And core values are something you would not compromise.”

On Mistakes:

“The biggest mistake I see: You have so much success, the expectations get so great that winning is a relief. Losing is a disaster. And so, because of that, they fail to raise the standards. I went to Notre Dame. I took a program on the bottom, we took it to the very top. For nine straight years we went to a Jan. 1 bowl, the Sugar, the Cotton, the Orange or the Fiesta. We took it on top and we maintained it.

“There’s a rule of life that says you’re either growing or you’re dying. Doesn’t have a thing to do with age. But you get on top, you say, ‘This is pretty good. Let’s not risk it. Let’s not jeopardize it, let’s not change anything. Let’s maintain.’ We finished second in the country. You know what they called me? An idiot. You know what they call a guy who finishes last at medical school? Doctor. That doesn’t seem real fair. But you’re on top and you say let’s not risk anything. Any time you’re not trying to get somewhere, you’re not trying to improve, you never have a reason to celebrate, you never come up with any new ideas.”

On Priorities:

“You need four things in your life or you have a tremendous void. Everybody needs something to do. Everybody needs someone to love. Everybody needs someone to believe in. But everybody needs something to hope for. And the more successful you are, you try to protect what you have instead of looking at how can we keep getting better. How can we grow?”

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Phil Cooke is the founder and CEO of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles (CookeMediaGroup.com) where his team helps church, ministry, and nonprofit organizations engage the culture more effectively through media. He's a filmmaker, media consultant, and author of "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."